The rise of video-on-demand services like Warner Archive and MGM Limited Edition has opened up lost worlds of films, but it’s also created a stigma similar to that of direct-to-DVD. Conventional wisdom holds that the more promising a direct-to-DVD or video-on-demand entry looks on paper, the more disappointing it will be. Otherwise, why would star-laden vehicles not receive a conventional, wide-scale DVD or Blu-ray release? By that thinking, 1955’s Not As A Stranger looks like such a sure-fire smash, but it should be unwatchable. Why else would a movie starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Charles Bickford, Harry Morgan, Lon Chaney Jr., and a strapping young slab of man-meat named Lee Marvin go relatively forgotten and unseen for so long? If that weren’t auspicious enough, Not As A Stranger also marked the directorial debut of producer Stanley Kramer, who went on to direct the iconic (though critically unfashionable) films It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner; and The Pride And The Passion. Thankfully, Not As A Stranger benefits from low expectations, but doesn’t require them.
Looking just a little too old to be playing a medical student, Mitchum stars as a ruthlessly ambitious doctor-in-training obsessed with achieving his professional goals, even if that means entering into a marriage of convenience with de Havilland, an adoring Swedish nurse who is unworldly but not unwise. After graduation, Mitchum takes a job as a country doctor under the tutelage of gruff but loving Bickford and falls under the sway of Grahame, a wealthy woman of easy virtue who collects men like Mitchum the way other people do china plates or Arabian horses.
Kramer has enough faith in his material and his uniformly excellent actors to let scenes linger and breathe; at 136 leisurely minutes, the tartly written, smartly observed character study is methodical in its storytelling as it takes its flawed protagonist on a spiritual journey from hubris to humility. Not As A Stranger taps into the raging fury and animal sexuality lurking underneath Mitchum’s quiet-storm demeanor; the film’s redemptive arc requires him to realize what he has in a good, wholesome woman like de Havilland, but Mitchum’s bedroom eyes and leering swagger suggest that he really belongs to a femme fatale like Grahame, who undoubtedly tumbled out of the womb clutching a cigarette in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. Though it deals forthrightly with issues of class, family, and ambition, Not As A Stranger doesn’t broadcast its importance or social significance the way Kramer’s later films did. That paradoxically makes it seem more important and significant than Kramer’s famously self-important later message movies.
Key features: None.